Friday, April 19, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Chapbooks

The History of “Sanity Among the Wildflowers”

You may have heard me say before how much I love making chapbooks. How they’re shorter so they can be read in a sitting or two, they don’t get boring, and you have more control over them.

If they’re self-published, you can decide on the cover yourself, make up a name for “your” press, price them reasonably, be sure you keep an archive copy for yourself, and learn something new every time. I hope the story of this book inspires you to make one. Once you get started, you’ll be on the road to chapbook happiness, and you’ll never look back!!

Here we go…

I’ve been writing since dinosaurs walked the earth. That doesn’t mean it was any good, just that I’d been doing it. In 2005, I began to read at weekly readings, and submit my work for publication. I always say that every poem has a story behind it, and if you want to know the story, ask me at the break. No one ever asks. The same is true about why I started reading, and publishing. It’s sad. It’s personal. If you want to know, email me at I will not be offended if you don’t ask.

Jack Grapes
One weekend I was at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, and I happened to meet Jack Grapes. Jack is a well-known, larger-than-life poet and teacher.  The final project for his Beginner’s class was to make, and turn in, a chapbook. Well heck!! I’d been thinking that it was time I started making my first chapbook; this was an omen!

As I’d been going to readings, I’d been buying chapbooks from the featured poets who I liked. I had been keeping notes of what I liked about some of them.

I knew what poems I wanted to include,
I wanted the title to be the title of one of the poems,
I wanted the cover picture to be one of my aunt’s. She’s a fabulous artist.

I didn’t know anything about the computer. I knew I’d need my mom’s help with everything from the Table of Contents to everything else. I named the press AV8TRX Press in her honor, because she’s a pilot. I also named it Carpeted Stones Press for no reason. I liked it.

My mom found a press out by her in Calabasas who gave her a price of $300 for a box of 100. DONE!!! My greatest joy was learning that the guy who did the printing made an extra copy for himself, and he read it on his lunch breaks. Fourteen years later that still remains one of my greatest joys (and yes, I am a dork).

What I Have Learned Since Then, Otherwise Known As Don’t Make The Same Mistakes I Did…           

  1. Don’t let ANYONE but you proof the manuscript before printing a hundred copies. That means first line, last line, period at the end, ALL punctuation, even the colors of the printer. Printers can be calibrated, and it can make a huge difference.

  1. It may look “more professional” to have your entire poem on one page, but as a poet friend said to me “do you want to look more professional? Or do you want to be kind to your readers?” 10pt font is TINY. I have never done that again.

Old Days
  1. In the “old days”, we learned to put two spaces after a period. Now it’s appropriate to put one space after a period. Do whatever you want, but be consistent. In Windows you can do it by using “Home”. “Replace”.

  1. Likewise em dashes. I know there’s a way to do them on the keyboard, but you could give me a million dollars and I won’t be able to do them. Use “Insert”, “Symbol”, “More Symbols”, “Special Characters”…the first one is the em dash…,”Insert”, “Cancel”, (done).

  1. There’s “self-published” and “self-published”. My books were great. I turned one in for my class and I was proud of it. But now, I have two left. One I sent to Rich for his library, and one is in my archive “after I’m dead” box.  That’s it.  You want to make sure you get an ISBN number so your book is available on Amazon, and maybe Barnes & and some libraries. The ISBN number will be listed inside your book, on the page with your publisher information on it. Why do you do this?

  1. Because if people like your work, they are going to look you up and buy every work of yours that they don’t have. And if your book was self-published in 2005, they probably won’t be able to find it now.

Why I’m so very thankful to Rich Soos and Cholla Needles Press:

  1. Rich is going to reprint “Sanity Among the Wildflowers” for me.

  1. My voice is still the same, but I have learned a lot about writing in the last fourteen years. I will have an opportunity to edit all my poems, give them better linebreaks, bettter punctuation, and a decent sized font so we don’t have to include a pair of reading glasses with every copy.

pretty cute picture
  1. I have gotten married!! I can use my married name, update the dedication, update the ridiculously short bio, unfortunately update the pretty cute picture 😔.

  1. I will have an ISBN!!! So from now on, anyone looking for me will find me!! I’m doing the happy dance, and I hope you do the happy dance too. Chapbooks are a blast! Ask me anything you want to know and I’ll be thrilled to tell you!!

because of technology and democracy you can help Rich and I decide what color scheme works best with the updated version of "Sanity". We can have the plain vanilla white-edged cover as above, again - to maintain the "feel of the original", or we can have one of these more colorful covers: Please comment and let us know which meets your eye the best =:-):

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

April 14! Open Poetry Reading - You Are The Featured Poet!

We are releasing the 28th issue of Cholla Needles!

On April 14, from 3-5 PM at Space Cowboy Books, YOU will be our featured reader. We are celebrating the arrival of issue 28 with all the local poets who appear in the issue, and any member of the community who wishes to be part of this celebration of National Poetry Month. Bring a poem with you and let's celebrate our love of poetry of all kinds as a community! See you at Space Cowboy Books. We all look forward to hearing your work!

Brian Beatty On Denis Johnson

Borrowed Trouble: Micro Tribute to Denis Johnson (1949-2017)

I wouldn’t write at all if it weren’t for myriad writers before me whose works showed me what was possible. The poems of this series are small offerings of respect, of thanks, to those muses. – Brian Beatty

Denis Johnson

Nights I had too many beers
I would declare war on streetlights 
the color of those Tibetan salt rock lamps
new-agers now claim ease tension.

Please. Respect my fear and intelligence.

I’ve slept off nothing. Passing trains 
rattled the faux wood walls of my studio apartment 
with outdoor furniture dragged upstairs, 
trains clacking louder than any gun.

Undergrads cued up to die along those same tracks.

– Brian Beatty

Incognito Lounge

Learn more:

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Brian's most recent collections of poetry are Dust and Stars: Miniatures and Brazil, Indiana. Don't miss Brian's columns on the great poets: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

Review of Finding The Azimuth

Finding the Azimuth by Lisa Mednick Powell
reviewed by Cynthia Anderson

buy the book here
Yes, this reviewer has to look up the word azimuth. What I find is, “the direction of a celestial object from the observer.” What I get from reading Lisa Mednick Powell’s poetic memoir is the trajectory of a life—an azimuth made up of many roads and journeys, jumping backwards and forwards in time, all happening at once and all leaning into the wind.

Lisa blends prose and poetry, plus her own artwork and photos, to tell her story. A veteran of the music business, she starts young and takes big risks to realize her dreams. “When I quit school in 1978, I gave up almost everything for music,” she says. In “New York/New Orleans,” she relates, “I bled on my keyboard and sax reeds. I played hard enough to hurt myself—I felt I had to. I am sure I hurt some other people too.”

Yet wherever she goes, she finds affirmations—“I met bums on the bowery who told me I was blessed.” An old man on the Southern Crescent train stares hard at her, seemingly understands what’s at stake, and offers, “You’ll do just fine.”

She tours in the U.S. and Down Under with The Chills, crisscrosses Oklahoma with the Red Dirt Rangers, and plays with more other bands than you can count. And in between, she travels some more. “Quintana Roo/Yucatan,” contains this vivid description of visiting Chichen Itza:

You can climb that inner flight of stairs and get very close to the past…you will never think about time the same way…Once you glimpse into the deep past, it never leaves you alone and you carry it with you like a fossil in your pocket. Your own distant past and recent experience move toward each other and you feel a window start to open.

Her years in Austin include playing with James McMurtry and Ray Wylie Hubbard. One night the actor Matthew McConaughey is in the audience and screams her name repeatedly—she ignores him, not knowing who he is. She leaves part of her heart in Texas, recounting:

There is a soothing quality that I always feel performing on a wooden stage in an old hall with sawdust on the hardwood floor. When I play a waltz with a good band in a Texas dance hall, I get lifted off my feet. I get to dance with all the cowboys.

Her poem “Texas Haiku #1” concludes:

At the hour when neon
always looks its best,
colors still pulsing

in parts of the sky—you
might see a star hanging
like a bit of chrome against a fender.

It is the moment that stretches:
after you buy the bottle and
before you drink it.

hear & buy the CD here
Her spare, taut writing cuts close to the bone. The last piece in the collection—a long one titled “A Plastic Orange Raincoat, a Little Drool of Blood, & Chaos on the Girl”—wanders the azimuth using wind speed as its gauge and ends in 2008 when she lands in Western New York, taking a break from the music business and earning an MFA. That’s why this book exists. 

A bonus is that each prose vignette begins with a great quote from a great songwriter. But the prize is Lisa’s writing. She knows what she’s doing, and she’ll take you on a ride you won’t forget. And by the way, she’s a great songwriter, too.

Lisa Mednick Powell is a musician and songwriter who lives in Twentynine Palms, California with her husband, bassist and songwriter Kip Powell. Together they have a band called Arroyo Rogers, playing country hits from the 60s and 70s plus their original compositions.

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Cynthia Anderson  is a poet & writer in the Mojave desert.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Inspire Your “Kids” to Read and Write

Don’t think this is exclusive to parents. You could be a grandparent, teacher, nurse, doctor, librarian…even a barista or waitstaff at a family friendly restaurant. Anywhere you are in a place to ask “oooh, what are you reading?” you are in a position to inspire. Anyone who is younger than you is a “kid”.

Inspiration Example: I spent most of Wednesday in “Health Insurance Hell”. At one point I said to the very nice woman “I can tell you anything you need to know about 401(k) plans, but I know nothing about insurance.” “Yeah, I need to start saving”, she said. That was all I needed to hear. At the end of our conversation, I was no longer crying in frustration, she’d learned something, and I felt like I’d inspired her to start saving for retirement (yes, I am a dork). It wasn’t reading or writing, but I hope it was inspiration.

It works that way with poetry – this IS National Poetry Month after all – and it works that way with fiction, short fiction, memoir, any kind of writing, and reading…JUST because we are focusing on poetry this month doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to keep “kids” excited about anything to do with words! (In my opinion 😍 ).

In April of 2008, Prism Review, published by the University of La Verne, had a “Sleepover Issue”. The submission window was open for 24 hours, and the issue was printed the next day. Jeff and I submitted. My nine-year-old son Owen submitted also. Jeff and I were accepted. Owen was not. We agonized over how to tell him. When we finally did, he threw his clenched hands up in the air in victory, and yelled “NOW I’M A REAL POET!!!!

My poem from The Prism Sleepover Issue (somewhat inspired by the art of Belgian artist Jean - Michel Folon, a favorite artist of mine and also a favorite of my wonderful Aunt Debbie, a gorgeous artist herself):

Surrealist, Mon Amour


A ladybug lands on her collarbone.
He wants to lick it off her,
get some good fortune for himself.
But she unrolls the window, tells
him to gently help the ladybug free.
He picks it up with fingernails—square,
like unopened Valentines, the same way
he makes his bed—precise. 
Her collarbone free, she tells him
to lick it anyway, and she drives straight,
the car honing a razor’s path through desire.
He does not wear scent.  She leans toward
him anyway.  Wants to take a picture of him
in front of the window and kiss his neck.


The label in her shirt says 13 years married.
She tucks it in and pours a glass of wine,
it makes no difference.  Change is heavy.
When she empties it out of her purse
she walks lighter, looks at the cherry blossoms
in the valley of hearts.  Hearts floating like
paintings of melting ice cream between
green and purple hills. Her roll of stamps
also has cherry blossoms but they are for
right-handers.  She awkwardly pays
her debts and otherwise does kind things.
She has left-handed scissors and a left-handed
fish knife.  No one else thinks about this.


They can’t take their eyes off their hands.
They talk about them over and over until
their hands become organic.  They would
name them, but then the beautiful
sea-creatures of them might come alive,
undulating in their exhalations
and changed breaths.  What would be
the explanation—they do not know, and they
take turns raising them to their lips, his finger
innocently yet deliberately stroking
the inside of her wrist, her pulse keeping time
with their unspoken words and unblinking eyes.
Time is interesting.  So is quiet.  So is the sea.

THAT’S inspiration, and what we need to do.  If you teach a group, or are in a group, whether it’s practicing English in an ESL class, or practicing typing…it doesn’t matter. Make a project for yourself (try and get extra credit, what the heck?) Take a group of people, tell them to go outside and write what they see, or write what they hear. When they come back in, show them what makes a line break…it’s not like how you breathe, it’s how you put an important word at the end of a line, and a teeny unimportant article at the beginning…Remember: not everyone watched “Conjunction Junction” on TV…you may need to explain what an article is. Even if you’re not a teacher, and God knows I’m not one, you can explain an article.

Have everyone read their work out loud to themselves all at the same time. It’ll be noisy for a few minutes but so what? MAKE IT FUN!!! Before they know it, they’ll have a poem! It may be horrible but who cares? It’s National Poetry Month and they’ll have a poem!!

Seeing the way people write will give you intel on authors you can suggest to them. Not necessarily poets…authors. And here is where you shouldn’t worry too much about the age of the people you’re talking to and the authors you suggest. My nine-year-old read books from the “Tweens” section all the time. He read all the Harry Potter books, All the Eragon books, The Chronicles of  Narnia, The Boy in theStriped Pajamas (which he’s now reading in German), and so on.

The same works for you!! What do you like to write? Make an effort to read that way too! Are you a narrative poet who likes to write about food? Read “Garlic and Sapphires” by Ruth Reichl. Read Jim Harrison’s “Roving Gourmand” books. Read (and submit to) anthologies and journals focusing on food.

Like magical stories? Read “Crescent” by Diana Abu-Jaber. Southern works? Poets Jack Bedell, Dixon Hearne, William Wright, Tyree Daye. Fiction writers up one side and down the other. And on and on. There are a ton of gorgeous books and authors who write in and about Northeast Canada! Annie Proulx, Howard Norman, poet Ross Leckie, The Fiddlehead, a journal based in New Brunswick…”Our editors are always happy to see new unsolicited works in fiction, including excerpts from novels, creative nonfiction, and poetry.”

Fiction writers, memoirists, and poets! Read them all and be inspired by them all. Before you know it, you’ll have written a poem with some sadly beautiful woman sitting at a copper bar, tapping her nails on the counter as she waits for a Kir Royale, and you’ll realize the drink was inspired by a book by Georges Simenon!

Now let’s just say you do work in a restaurant, and you see someone sitting alone at a table reading a book. What harm does it do to ask them “oooh, what are you reading?” Is it the worst thing to have them feel like they are not eating alone? (Note: If it’s “The Story of O”, or any book that raises the hair on the back of your neck, have someone walk you to your car when your shift is over).

You can’t have writing without reading. Why don’t you bring someone along with you on your journey? Kids, adults, book club members, writing group members…help match them up with what might resonate with them. They will remember you forever. They will read forever, and hopefully, they will write forever.

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Brian Beatty On Russell Edson

Borrowed Trouble: Micro Tribute to Russell Edson (1935-2014)

I wouldn’t write at all if it weren’t for myriad writers before me whose works showed me what was possible. The poems of this series are small offerings of respect, of thanks, to those muses. – Brian Beatty

Russell Edson

“Sentience is overrated,” the ape explained to the news interviewer and millions more at home. The cameras and lights intrigued the beast. “At least our years of study kept the zoo interesting.”

– Brian Beatty

Learn more:

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Brian's most recent collections of poetry are Dust and Stars: Miniatures and Brazil, Indiana. Don't miss Brian's columns on the great poets: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

The Power Of National Poetry Month April 6, 2019

Chlolla Needles Young Writers And Artists April 6, 2019